How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?
According to Sleep expert, Dr Neil Stanley, the conventional eight hours recommended, is a myth. Sleep like height, is different for everyone. We are all individual and our sleep requirements are genetically determined. Just as there are short and tall people, some people are genetically programmed to require less sleep while others require more. In general, most people usually require anywhere between four and eleven hours of rest each night! You cannot “hack” the amount of sleep you require just as you cannot hack how tall you can grow.
How Do You Know Your Sleeping Requirements?
Finding out how much sleep you need is a trial and error process. If you feel good and awake during the day, you've probably had enough sleep. If you feel sleepy during the day, you likely haven't. When working a normal daytime shift, you should feel awake, focused and alert around noon. If you feel otherwise, you may not have had sufficient sleep.
The most important rule is to listen to your body. There's no general set time for everybody to go to sleep, wake up or sleep. It's all about you as the individual. The most problem we face is not sleeping when we become tired. Usually we wait until the TV show or Netflix ends, or when our partners decide to sleep. This can become a never ending cycle.
The good news is that you can change your sleeping patterns. However, with any change you make to sleep, it has to be a gradual process over a period of time. If your sleeping pattern is in disarray, you’ll need to correct it. This is achieved by sleeping 15 minutes earlier each week until you succeed. The important action step is to check how you feel throughout the day. This will help you know whether you’re getting sufficient sleep.
Sleep is one of the biggest mysteries of life. It is the essential element of living organisms and vital for growth and recovery. However, it can be one of the most difficult areas to understand and optimize. I've prepared an article that likely resembles a FAQ to help you understand how to get better sleep, more consistently. So if you've ever had questions about sleep, dig in below!
When is the Best Time to Sleep and Wake Up?
You’ll hear the term “circadian rhythm.” It refers to your body's rhythm, the pattern that is responsible for normal body function including your sleep wake cycle. The circadian rhythm also influences our hormone production and alertness such as post-lunch dip which feels as though we’re tired after a heavy meal. Clearly the circadian rhythm plays a large role in our daily lives.
We all have a natural rhythm and your body’s decision on sleeping time is dictated by this natural rhythm and the duration you’ve been awake. Studies report that most people have a clearly defined sleeping time however, it is difficult to predict accurately. As a result, the best practice is to go to sleep when you feel tired.
So How can I Optimize My Sleep?
Optimizing sleep can be achieved in three steps. Firstly, you should designate your bedroom to be conducive to sleep. Your bedroom should be dark so or dimly lit. You can use thick curtains or blackout blinds to achieve this. Furthermore, choose a comfortable bed. Because fresh air is good for sleep, if the climate is not too chilly, leave the window open at night. This will keep your bedroom cool and comfortable. The ideal temperature should range between 16 and 18 degrees Celsius (or 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit.) When sleeping, earplugs will help keep things quiet.
The next step to optimize sleep is to be relaxed. Physical exercise can help you relax especially after a stressful day’s work. You can also meditate or practice breathing deeply to help relax yourself. Other methods include having a warm bath, drinking chamomile tea or other natural herbal remedies. In fact, we’ve designed a special set to help you achieve this. The natural ingredients in these supplements are designed to help you relax and sleep easier.
The third step is to keep your mind empty and unfazed by problems. Avoid blue light from electronics an hour before bed as it suppresses the release of melatonin (the body's signal to begin the cascade of processes to fall asleep). This has also been reported to reduce the quality of your sleep, leaving you more tired the following day. To reduce the impact, some people use apps that strip out blue light. Examples of such apps include Blue Light Filter or sFilter on Android, or Night Shift on Apple devices.
What is the '90 Minute Rule'? Does it work?
The next method to optimizing your sleep is to understand another cycle, the sleep cycle. The sleep cycle describes your undulation between light and deep sleep and you may have read scientists describing the typical sleep cycle as being, 90 minutes long. Wake at the beginning or the end of the 90 minutes and you’ll feel refreshed. Wake in the middle of the cycle and you’re bound to feel exhausted, irritated and dissatisfied with your sleep!
This dogma has adhered with mainstream society so well that developers have even published apps to help you wake up after five sleep cycles (the typical so called “amount” you need.) The issue with this idea is that different phases of the sleep cycle are of variable duration. What is believed to take 90 minutes can actually range from 70 to 110 minutes and the margin of error after five sleep cycles can be more than three hours! Therefore while 90 minutes is a good guideline as a starting point, it’s not accurate to make the assumption that it is set in stone. The crucial assessment is whether you wake up feeling refreshed – and from REM sleep.
How Can I Optimize Sleep and Achieve More With Less?
I once, was driven with inspiration after hearing the work ethic of successful entrepreneurs like Mark Cuban and Elon Musk. This meant outworking the competition and pulling longer work days to achieve a higher level of personal and financial success. Polyphasic sleep, Uberman, Magnesium and zinc supplements started being referenced in articles I was reading and implementing in my life. But after trying this, I repeatedly found myself worse off and burned out. This drove me to asking the actual experts and I’m sure you’ll love this.
After speaking with many sleep scientists, I’m met with a mixture of revulsion or astonishment. It really puzzled me until a more patient sleep scientist described my question as asking a nutritionist, “How can I get away with eating more fast food AND still be in peak health?”
You may have heard of the benefits of polyphasic napping and while it’s anecdotally been associated with some of the greatest and influential minds in civilization – Michaelangelo, Da Vinci, Napoleon, Churchill and Edison, there is no documented evidence that they practiced it. The probability of these minds practicing polyphasic sleep is as high as it being an internet myth.
From the outset, in my readings, I have not found a consistent method to reduce your sleeping requirements without profoundly negative impacts on my productivity and hence, relationships. But there are some solutions to promote wakefulness, at least on a short term basis.
Modafinil is a drug that promotes wakefulness and as a result, it is often abused. Prescribed to help people with serious conditions such as narcolepsy, it is abused by people trying to keep awake at the risk of side effects including headaches, drowsiness, diarrhea and constipation, to name a few. Another drug that is often used to promote wakefulness is caffeine, an ingredient of coffee and the original Coca Cola. This can help you feel awake but you’ll accrue the sleep debt we described earlier.
One suggestion to function on less sleep, taken from an interview with Dr Stanley is to use blue light in excess of 10,000 Lux in the mornings and evenings as needed. This stops the production of melatonin at night, leaving you less sleepy. That said, there is no sensible reason to sleep less. Medical and sports professionals have often championed the restorative effects of sleep. It’s a critical behavior that improves well being and we have little control over our sleep cycle unless we practice sleep deprivation – which is an irrational action to take.
I Can’t Sleep at Night. What Should I Do?
That depends. If you feel patient enough to lie in bed with your eyes closed then try that first. However if you are feeling restless and begin to resent lying in bed then you should try and change strategy.
Try something relaxing whether it is to read a book, listen to classical music (and not Metallica or Iron Maiden.) Go back to bed when you feel sleepy.
Does “Catch Up” Sleep Work?
Let’s say, if you're consistently sleeping 6 to 8 hours a night throughout the week but still feel tired, is it beneficial to sleep longer on the weekends to catch up?
Expert opinion is divided on this.
Recently, a study was published that supported the benefits of catch up sleep over the weekend. The idea being, the debt accrued from depriving yourself of sleep during the week can be repaid by carrying it to the weekend. While “repaying the debt” is possible, you’ll probably feel irritated, frustrated and exhausted by the end of the week. This leaves you feeling less productive that if you had been fully rested.
That said, if you had a single poor night of sleep, your body is pretty robust and effective in adapting. Some people feel like a short power nap, or cup of coffee will help. That said, the best remedy is to listen to your inner circadian rhythm and go to bed when you feel on the cusp of sleeping.
Can I Change My Circadian Rhythm?
Scientists have not yet reported a method to change your circadian rhythm. You can force your body to wake up earlier however, it’s long term impact on optimal productivity is doubtful at best.
Is Hemp Oil (or CBD) an Effective Supplement to Improve your Quality of Sleep?
Reporting related to the impact of cannabinoids on sleep is variable. Some scientists have published studies supporting cannabinoid use while other scientists have published studies that question the benefit of CBD supplements on sleep. However, this could mean that cannabinoids benefit some segment of the community but not others. In my research into wellness hacking, I was recommended to try CBD to improve my sleep. While I personally have found benefit in using CBD products to improve relaxing and sleeping, some products have worked better than others. The product I have used contains CBD extracted from Hemp. You can learn more about it here.
Do You Recommend Any Apps to Track My Sleeping?
Generally speaking, apps are not accurate at measuring sleep. The benefit of tracking sleep using apps is over a period of time such as two to three months. The data from these apps can generate patterns over time which you can relate to your sleeping experience however, the data on a night-to-night basis is difficult to interpret.
If you’re worried about your sleeping, you can either try 5-HTP, Vitamin B and Ashwagandha which is also found in the Calm Set here, or visit a dedicated sleep clinic, where they can run more comprehensive (but intensive tests.)
How Can I Improve My REM Sleep?
REM sleep is the phase of sleep marked by cohesive, story-like dreams – think Inception. It occurs roughly every 90 minutes. Your initial REM period throughout the night may only be 5-10 minutes long while the latter part of the night may be 45 minutes.
It is a phase that is involved in emotional wellbeing and emotional memories and when you have high quality sleep, REM will naturally occur. When we wake up in the morning, it typically occurs during the dream in our REM phase. This is why we can remember profound dreams when we first wake up. Now the only method to get REM sleep is to eliminate disturbances while you sleep which means a relaxing and quiet environment and eliminating blue light before sleeping, to name a few.
When is the Best Time to Sleep when Doing Shift Work or Regularly Travelling?
Shift work and travelling across different time zones has the potential to upset your circadian rhythm. It’s not a natural phenomenon that we have evolved from. Most people who work night shifts have been found to sleep an average of two and a half hours less than those who work day shift. The impact is unavoidable but you can minimize this by using eye shades and ear plugs to minimize disturbance to your sleep.
Jet lag is a shorter term issue and can be managed for most people. When you sit on the plane, set your watch for the local destination time and try to align your meals around your usual habits during that time zone. Remember reading how a large meal can make you feel weary? Just as we have an internal clock driven by lighting, we also have an internal clock related to food. Both will impact our sleep. Once you arrive at your destination, try to acclimatize with the local time.
When you travel long flights, you may notice the air stewardess asking people to close the blinds. The actual reason behind this is to minimize passengers asking for alcohol for the entire duration of the flight. However, if you want to best acclimatize to the local timing, you’ll benefit by keeping the blind up to see the sunlight and helping your circadian rhythm naturally adjust.
Can a Person Suffering from Insomnia Change their Sleeping Patterns?
Believe it or not, there are many reasons for insomnia and there are different solutions with different causes of insomnia. This is a topic with plenty to cover and I have an article that you might be interested in! For more detail, you can read this here.